Custody dispute involves woman who killed her kids

SEATTLE (AP) — An Oregon mother asked a judge Thursday to overrule a family law commissioner’s decision letting her two teenage sons live in the same house as a woman who killed her own daughters 20 years ago.

Trisha Conlon of Silverton, Ore., had two boys with her former husband, retired Marine fighter pilot Lt. Col. John P. Cushing Jr., in the 1990s. But they split up several years ago, and John Cushing has since gotten back together with his first wife, Kristine, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity after shooting their 4- and 8-year old daughters in California’s Orange County in 1991.

Conlon has said she learned only this year that Kristine and John Cushing were once again together at Cushing’s home on Vashon Island, south of Seattle — a fact her attorney, Todd DeVallance, argued should warrant changes to the boys’ parenting plan. But a court commissioner found last month that even if Conlon didn’t know about it, John and Kristine Cushing had been back together for some time, with no apparent detriment to the boys — and thus, there was no change of circumstance that would require the plan to be modified.

DeVallance asked King County Superior Court Judge William Downing in Seattle to allow the process of modifying the plan to go forward, noting that while Kristine Cushing’s current mental state is unknown to Conlon, at the very least it’s problematic that the boys were asked to lie to Conlon about Kristine being in the home. He also asked for an order giving Conlon temporary custody, with John Cushing being giving visitation on alternate weekends and no contact from Kristine Cushing.

“The history is a concern here, your honor,” DeVallance said. “Who is watching the children right now? Are they being left alone with Kristine Cushing?”

In declarations and comments to the court, neither John Cushing nor his attorney, Nancy Sorensen, has disputed Conlon’s allegation that the boys were told to lie to their mother about Kristine being there and to instead refer to her as “Mrs. M.” They declined to speak with reporters after the hearing Thursday.

“The sole evidence presented by the mother is one tragic episode that happened 20 years ago,” Sorensen told the judge. “The court is required to deny (the motion) if there is not current evidence.

“What evidence you do have is that the son who’s living with Mr. Cushing is excelling in all aspects.”

Cushing has emphasized that Kristine was considered temporarily insane at the time of the killings — and thus, “There was no crime committed — there was a horrible tragedy that resulted in the deaths of our two daughters. (Conlon) and her counsel seem to feel that anyone who suffers from temporary insanity is incapable of recovering from that condition. Kristine’s doctors disagree.”

“Kristine M. Cushing is doing well,” he wrote. “She is busy, enjoys life and loves me and my sons.”

The killings stunned the well-off community of Laguna Niguel, where many wondered how Kristine Cushing — who was known as an attentive mother who ferried the girls to music, soccer, dance and the orthodontist as her husband was on military assignments overseas — could snap so tragically.

After a decade of psychiatric monitoring, Kristine Cushing received an unconditional release from the state of California in 2005 when authorities determined she posed no risk.

Conlon and Cushing were married in 1995 and divorced in 2004. Their older son, 14-year-old Stephen, lives with her during the school year, while 13-year-old Sam lives with Cushing. The boys are together during holidays and vacations, which they split between their parents. They’ve spent this month with their father.

John Cushing remarried his first wife in 2005. Conlon said she suspected Kristine might be back in the picture, but didn’t learn it for sure until two years later, when she received a call from a Washington state Child Protective Services worker informing her that Kristine was living with John and the boys.

Conlon threatened then to go to court to seek a change in the boys’ parenting plan, court records show. Instead, Cushing told her not to worry about it: Kristine Cushing was divorcing him and moving out, so the matter was dropped.

But the divorce apparently didn’t stick. About a month later, in March 2008, Kristine Cushing moved back in.

For the next three years, Conlon said, she had no idea her boys were spending time with Kristine Cushing. But she figured it out early this year, after seeing a new painting Kristine had made hanging on a wall in the Vashon Island home. A private investigator confirmed it.

The judge asked reporters for sensitivity in covering the case and said he would issue a ruling by Monday.

“These are difficult issues, not easy for anyone,” he said.

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